Having just seen one of the lesser Bond pictures, it made me think during Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2012) what a wonderful double bill it and say, Moonraker (1979) would make. One movie regards it’s complicated plot with utter silliness and the other reveres it as gospel. Yes, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy has you scrambling to remember names and roles and code names but the structure is just that of a Bond movie, without the cheeky smile. That’s ironic as our James in this case is a retired agent in British Intelligence by the name of George Smiley, played with the utmost English reserve by Gary Oldman. After a performance of such understatement it’s astounding that this is the same man who played Sid Vicious and spent much of Harry Potter and the Prisoner Azkaban preening like a lunatic. Here he’s investigating a mole in the bowels of the Circus, the nickname for British Intelligence. Like with Bond, the actual maneuvers are of no matter, but the methods are. We move from one dangerous escapade to the next and we pick up a bit of information but they all exist independently of each other. I’d have to watch the movie a few more times to tell you exactly what a mission into the higher security floor of the Circus pricesely had to do with the bugging of a top secret safe house, but both adventures created their own tension.
Director Tomas Alfredson understands a simple truth about spy pictures; it’s not important if we understand perfectly how the pieces fit, just as long as those on the screen do. A lot can be connected by a raised eyebrow or an emergence from the shadows, if we don’t know every detail, who cares? I can say there’s simply too much going on in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy but Alfredson juggles it all nicely. One can be forgiven, as this is simply a large international wudunit, for there being too many characters but for a film that I had be forewarned of its plot intricacies, I was surprised and pleased at how much time was given to still moments. We often see Smiley reflecting or listening or walking. My biggest bone to pick is that there isn’t enough at stake, we know there’s a mole in the intelligence group, we know he’s been selling secrets to the Soviets for years, there’s some vague talk early about the Circus being the last bulwark between peace and World War III but the consequences of the mole’s actions aren’t given weight or even illustrated. Bond usually gets a countdown of some kind.
As a British production, the cast is rich and first rate, there’s John Hurt as the leader, Toby Jones, Ciaran Hinds, Colin Firth as the suspects and Mark Strong, Benedict Cumberbatch and Tom Hardy as field agents. They aren’t given much to work with as the story has to bolt along but credit both the performers and the casting as many of the actors bring characterization simply by appearing on screen. In this story of loyalty there’s a virtuoso sequence that ends the film where all the business is tied up that reminded me of the ultimate virtuoso sequence in the definitive movie about loyalty; the baptism scene in The Godfather. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a taut thriller, the first American feature by Alfredson who directed Let the Right One In, which is to vampire movies of the Twilight ilk that Tinker Tailor is to the Bond spy movie. Here’s looking forward to more.